Urban agriculture process gets green light in Lantzville

NANAIMO – Commercial farming could soon be a permitted activity on residential properties in Lantzville.

Commercial farming could soon be a permitted activity on residential properties in Lantzville.

The district’s council recently approved a proposal put forward by staff to begin a research and public consultation process that would culminate in policy options to enable urban agriculture in the community.

A report by Meredith Seeton, the district’s new community planner, listed several possible approaches to allowing urban agriculture and outlined a process that includes background research, a questionnaire, focus group discussions, a day-long summit in September and bringing forward policy options in October.

The report was first discussed at the May 13 council meeting, at which time a motion to move forward with the above process was defeated by a tie vote – one member of the seven-person council was absent.

Mayor Jack de Jong resurrected the issue at Monday’s council meeting and this time it passed 4-3.

“I felt this was a really productive way to go forward,” he said, adding the process is estimated to cost around $5,000.

The debate over urban agriculture in Lantzville heated up in 2010 when a neighbour of Compassion Farm, a commercial farm on residential property, filed a complaint with the district, after which the farm was cited as operating in contravention of Lantzville’s residential zoning bylaw.

The owners of the farm, Dirk Becker and Nicole Shaw, were issued a 180-day cease and desist order, but continued to operate the farm, prompting council to issue a legal threat to force compliance, which was later dropped in favour of mediation.

The dispute sparked a broader community discussion about urban agriculture and led to development of an urban food bylaw that was later abandoned in favour of creating a soil deposit and removal bylaw, which council did not adopt.

In April, the district announced that the dispute between the owners of Compassion Farm and adjoining property owners was resolved through a district-funded mediation process.

De Jong said while much work went into developing the urban food bylaw, it was done under significant pressure from people on both sides of the issue.

“I think this time we can move forward in a more objective fashion,” he said. “Let staff make the recommendations, go to a public process. Mayors and councillors make poor planners.”

Becker said council’s decision on the process is a positive development, but the news is bittersweet for the couple, who have put their property up for sale, citing exhaustion from having “been through the meat grinder” for the past two and a half years.

“There is only so much human beings can take,” he said.

Having an open public process, where anyone has a chance to give input, is important, said Becker.

“I’m relieved that they are finally taking steps to do what the majority of Lantzville residents have asked for for the past two and a half years,” he said. “All we have ever asked for is that urban farming be added as a permitted, home-based business.”